Category Archives: Apple

HTC Thunderbolt

Based on my previous post on Apple and their business practices (http://blog.drosenassoc.com/?p=59), I decided to upgrade my iPhone 3Gs to a Verizon HTC Thunderbolt. Getting on a 4G network was another major draw, as was getting off of the poor-performing AT&T network, with its dropped calls, congestion, and poor signal strength in places that I frequent. This is my review. In summary, I can’t recommend this phone except for a small segment of users.

The screen was great – very bright, easy to read, and responded well to touch and typing. Sound quality was great. Processor is fast. Having a separate radio for the 4G network means that you can use your phone for data during a voice call. And the Verizon network is rock solid.

In the end, it was battery life that got me to return the phone and exchange it for an iPhone 4. Both the Verizon store personnel, and their phone customer care, are aware of this problem and tell me that HTC is also aware of it. At times (that seem uncorrelated to use, etc.), the phone seems to run some background processes that just plain drain the battery. I tried a couple of the battery management packages, turned off GPS and WiFi, etc., but none of them seemed to make a major difference. So, I resorted to leaving the phone plugged into its charger while near an outlet, and purchased a nifty remote battery back that would give an extra 15-30 min of life. The final straw was unplugging the phone at 10:30 AM and having the battery be dead at 1PM. Totally not acceptable.

Also unacceptable was the fact that neither HTC nor Verizon had any sync software ready for the Thunderbolt. I spent a ton of time trying to sync the phone with my music and photos, but nothing worked. I finally gave up and called Verizon support to learn that HTC had not yet released the sync software. Through more hard work, I got Windows 7 to recognize the Thunderbolt memory and was able to manually copy music and photos.

On the good side, the Verizon 4G network rocks! Super-fast when it is available, which is often is in Seattle. During my trip to San Diego, I found that I was often on 3G and sometimes on 1x. As a promotion, Verizon allowed the Thunderbolt to act as a WiFi hotspot. This worked flawlessly and also was really fast. All of this seemed to be a great glimpse of the future.

And, lastly, some Google Android quirks (also known as design features). This is a phone, right? Well, I expected to be able to tag phone numbers/contacts as favorites. Turns out this is really difficult. You need to add a category of favorites, then use a widget to display your favorites. And you can’t list both home and mobile – you have to choose one. All of this makes the concept of “favorites” for calling or texting pretty lame.

Another quirk: the calendar. Unlike the iPhone, the Google calendar app does not allow for time zone support; it automatically resets calendars to your current time zone as determined by the phone. In other words, if you travel from Seattle to the East coast and book an appointment for 10 AM after your arrival, the Google calendar will change the time to 7AM when you arrive. While this is useful, if you are using outlook to coordinate a number of people in different time zones, it should be an option!

There is lots more I can add about both the phone and the experience, but I really can’t recommend the Thunderbolt until the battery life problem is resolved, unless you don’t need to be disconnected from power. But, if you fall into that category, you probably don’t need a cell phone!

Apple: You’ve Got to be Kidding

I hope that you all have been following the tiff that has developed between Apple and its app vendors and publishers (see e.g. http://www.informationweek.com/news/personal-tech/smart-phones/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=229200215). Nothing like taking wonderful successes like the iPhone and iPad and then let unbridled greed kill an ecosystem. This is exactly the kind of corporate behavior that has killed so many nascent new markets and deserves to be punished.

As those that have read my previous blogs know, I am a big iPad fan. Among my favorite apps on the iPad are Kindle and Netflix. I was proud of Amazon for sticking up to the publishers to try to get better pricing for their customers, even though they ultimately failed. (Can anyone explain to me why a printed book should be cheaper than an eBook?)

The only logic behind Apple’s decision that ALL content offered through their platform should have to pay them 30% of the gross is that they think they can get away with it. The end result will be one of the following:

1) The content providers will have to charge 30% more on Apple platforms; or

2) There will be less content available on those platforms, because all content will only be available on the iTunes store.

Neither of these alternatives is good strategy for Apple. While exceedingly profitable in the short term, ultimately, it will lead to their ecosystem being stifled of innovation and being surpassed by others that are friendlier to partners and user economics.

I believe that Apple is still thinking like the underdog in its markets and not like the market leader it has become.  Being the market leader brings obligations as well as exceptional rewards.  If Microsoft were to decide to charge a 10% charge for all e-commerce done on Windows, the furor would be loud and never end.  But Apple, with its innovative products seems to believe that it is still the underdog and not the market leader with iPad and iPhone.  It is exactly this sort of bad corporate greed that forces governments to become involved in our industry (see http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704657704576150350669475800.html?mod=WSJ_Tech_LEADTop). I hope that Apple senior management and their board wake up soon.

I would urge all iTunes customers to immediately find alternative way to buy content. A good example of this is one of my portfolio companies – Single-Click Checkout (http://www.singleclickcheckout.com/) which is available to merchants on most mobile platforms and allows a user a safe and secure way to purchase things directly from the vendor on their mobile devices without using the platform store.

I hope Amazon and other content owners don’t bow to Apple’s mafia-like tactics. Even if Apple doesn’t realize it, forcing their hand on this and getting them to back down is in everyone’s interest.

I had waited to upgrade my iPhone 3G to an iPhone 4 on Verizon, and was just about to do so.  I no longer intend to go to the iPhone 4 with this Apple policy on content.

Apple Overtakes Microsoft as the Most Valuable Tech Company

John Cook from Tech Flash asked me to comment on the following question:What should Microsoft do to reposition itself as the most dominant and valuable tech company on the planet?

This is not a problem that has appeared over night; it has been decades in the making and can’t be cured with a single act.  The industry has matured, and Microsoft is still run like the company it was 20 years ago.  It lacks the visionary who can anticipate what its customers will desire and the ability to delight and surprise (in a positive way) those customers with a clean and crisp innovation.

Microsoft has become the IBM of the last generation – it is a de facto enterprise solution and “no one will get fired for selecting Microsoft.”  Microsoft had the ability to lead the way in the Internet, but it instead focused on the competition inside and didn’t dream the big dream.  Worse – it became boring!

Look at Windows Vista and Office 2007.  Neither were improvements on previous versions, nor were they more stable or easier to use.  And, of course, Microsoft had the clear shot at the Smartphone operating system.  Instead, it tried to bring us Windows on our phones.

Customers wanted new thinking, sleek products, and ones that were much easier to use.  The iPhone was really a breakthrough – a browser-based phone that was truly useful and enabled 1000’s of cheap, easy, and imaginative apps.  Apple unleashed the imagination and creativity of an entire generation.  And then they extended it to the iPad.  They took leadership of the entire industry.  They earned the mantle.

The fact that a large company loses its ability to innovate is not a surprise.  I call this the  “$0B Business Problem.”    As an illustration, I was the first GM of the Microsoft Search team.  We had a great plan to lead the search business that would grow to a new $250M business in 3 years. (Any VC would have funded this business; it returned over 50x ROI.)  But we competed for resources with Excel, which needed the same 25 headcount, and had an net present value of $4B.  In that context, my $250M rounded to $0B, and we didn’t get the people.

Microsoft needs to find a way to unleash it’s innovation.  It needs to behave more like  a startup.  When I was there, I suggested Microsoft form a group called “The Idea Factory,” where innovative and entrepreneurial employees could “spin in” (rather than spin out) a new idea, and create a startup around that idea.  The notion was that an internal VC group would vet and fund a portfolio of ideas, in exchange for ownership in the new company(newco)  and a right to acquire the entire company at a later date at a market price.  The employees who transferred to newco would exchange their options/restricted shares for newco stock.   And the newco would hire a great startup CEO to build the company.  These newcos shouldn’t be constrained to “work within the existing system,” or you will get another Windows Mobile instead of an iPhone.

Changing leadership at Microsoft, but keeping the system, won’t change the company’s trajectory.  Acquiring a large and already successful company won’t solve the problem.  Nor will decreeing that it is going to “kill Google,” or “kill iPhone.”  Microsoft still has the most formidable research and intellectual ability in the industry.  Microsoft needs a better vision, one that is tied to delighting customers.  Technology that is easier to use and just works.  And technology that surprises it customers.  If Microsoft can’t make this transition, it risks becoming irrelevant in the industry. That would be sad.

Apple’s Folly

The battle between Apple and Adobe is ridiculous. Ok.. it makes sense if you like to watch two large sumo wrestlers belly bump, ignoring customers and wanting to try to force the market to adopt their products, despite what the market wants. Let’s look at this more carefully.

First of all, many web pages (especially the most interesting ones) use Adobe Flash. I really like those pages.

Secondly, Apple won’t let anyone deploy Flash on its iPad or Safari browser, denying their customers the ability to see those pages. (Remind anyone of the worst of the Microsoft behavior that the government sued them for?)

Third, Apple has alternative technologies that it says are better, use less power, and are optimized to their devices. This is, in some ways, true. But it is also irrelevant. Apple should not make this choice for their customers – it should allow customers to discover it for themselves. A great example of why this is true is the Netflix app on the iPad – I love this app. The quality is great, it doesn’t drain the battery, and the image quality seems better than I get by streaming Netflix to my HD projector. This is a great example of the quality of the Apple technology. If it performs that well on the iPad, it should win in the marketplace. But I hate being told that I must use it.

Lastly, the real reason for this decision was made evident when Apple banned the use of applications that otherwise complied with their standards, but were written on Adobe software.

So.. Steve Jobs please let us see Flash web pages. You have created great technology and products. The iPhone and IPad are transformative. You don’t need to force your customers to use your technology. If you keep innovating, your customers will decide to use what you produce. Use your market leadership with confidence. Win by being better. Don’t emulate the worst behavior; emulate the best.

My iPad

Yes, I bought an iPad last Saturday. For those that know me, you will be surprised to know that I even waited in line for almost 2 hours. But I must say, Apple really had its act together. They had the line snake down a service corridor, so that you couldn’t see it when you came in. And then they had coffee at the end of the line. Very civilized. When I got to the front, I was assigned to an Apple employee, who introduced himself, took be in and got me my iPad. He then told me about the accessories that they had in stock, and tested my iPad for me to ensure it worked. I also bought the dock that enable you to charge the iPad while it stands up and the Apple cover. Unfortunately, the you can’t dock the car with the cover on, so I took it off. There seem to be many better covers than the Apple one.

Immediately on leaving, I went to Starbucks to try it out. (OK, maybe to show it off a little.) The screen was brilliant, the package exactly what you’d expect from an Apple product, and the fit and finish terrific. However, the extra size made the touchscreen keyboard very difficult to use, compared to the iPhone. I suppose that I will find a comfortable way to type on it eventually.

It connected to the wifi on the first try. (I wish my Windows laptops did as well.) I then connected it to my exchange server, which also worked on first try. After a brief wait while it downloaded, I had my email, calendar, and contacts. First observation – Apple modified their email, calendar, and contacts programs for the iPad to take advantage of the extra screen space. Really nicely done.

Next, I downloaded the Kindle reader. It immediately synced to my Kindle account and downloaded my books, and even synced to the current page in the book I was reading. Really slick.

I searched for apps in the App Store. Some very cool apps made just for the iPad. One of my very favorite is the Netflix app. It allows you to actually stream and watch movies in your queue! And crystal clear picture, no skips, and good sound. I’ve been using it frequently.

The ABC app, NY Times, and BBC are also really good. The apps made for the iPad that take advantage of the platform really show it off well.

One other cool feature is the photo show button on the sleep screen. When you press it, the iPad becomes a picture show while charging. Very cool.

My iPhone apps also work (for the most part) on the iPad. Apple added a “2X” button at the bottom of the screen so that you can double the size of the iPhone screen. Note that it doesn’t double resolution, but that’s not too bad in most apps. Note that iTunes won’t download apps that don’t work on the iPad.

One big problem was getting files onto the iPad. The only way I found was using iTunes – clearly sub-optimal. Till a friend (who had been an iPad beta tester) told me about GoodReader. Allows you to use wifi to transfer files. Works well.

Another big gripe from me – the iPad has NO CAMERA. Why? I hadn’t thought much about the implications of this, but it not only means that the iPad won’t take pictures, but also can’t use the camera-enabled apps. One of my favorite iPhone apps is WorldCard, which lets you photograph a business card, recognizes it, and then exports it Outlook. I have lots of photo apps on the iPhone and wish they worked on iPad.

Another problem is Apple’s stupid decision not to support Flash. With the fabulous screen and wifi, it is possible to pull up full size web pages, many of which now use flash. They just don’t play/display on the iPad. Note to Apple – please support Flash!

Last gripe – the only other attachment was a VGA adapter, which can show the iPad screen on a monitor. Why not HDMI, so that you get sound as well as the video?

Not perfect, but a very cool product. I can see the value of the 3G version. Hopefully it will do text messaging as well. And maybe version 2 or 3 will fix some of the shortcomings.